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05.05.20

Why Whine about Wine, obscurity in the cask

1. Walk into our virtual bar with host Miranda Lidgerwood – here

2. Purchase the whisky flight – here

3. …and read on to learn more!

 

For decades, whisky consumers have been obsessed with sherry cask whisky, and due to the rising price and diminishing availability of sherry casks, producers have been seeking alternatives to either create a similar flavour profile, or to diversify their offerings. Some of my favourite whiskies over the last few years have been matured in unique wine casks from across the world. Take, for example, a Linkwood bottled by Scyfion (Ukraine), matured in a cask previously housing Troyanda Zakarpatya; a fortified Ukrainian rosé wine made from Traminer grapes.

Due to a long history that stretches back approximately 2300 years of wine being matured in barrel, and also due to the incredible amount of wine varietals globally, the cask options for whisky are almost endless!

Whether it comes in a beautiful cork and wax sealed bottle or a 5 litre bag in a box, wine is defined as an alcoholic beverage made from fruit, although in a more modern sense, wine is defined as a fermented grape drink. One of the most difficult barriers to break down for the whisky industry is how to convey the unique wine varietal to the consumer. I mean, we can all try to Google the varietal, although when it comes to buying a bottle or a dram over the bar, how are you to understand the flavours that can be created? Well, hopefully this short overview and subsequent flight of whiskies can help!

 

Wine can be broken down into four all-encompassing categories;

  • Table Wines; this category includes anything that can be called a red, white, rosé or orange wine.
  • Sparkling Wines; also known as bubbles, includes Champagne, Pétillant naturel and Prosecco wines
  • Fortified Wines; this is a category where the wine has been fortified with a distilled alcohol, usually brandy. These wines include Port, Sherry, Madeira, Marsala, and many more. There is a wide range of styles within this category, ranging from bone dry, to overtly sweet and rich.
  • Dessert Wines; this category is sometimes confused with fortified wine. Dessert wine is a wine made to be sweet, without adding distilled alcohol, through many varied methods. Some dessert wines are made with grapes that have been partially dried by either being dried on straw mats, or having the grapes infected with Botrytis Cineria which allows the grapes to dry, and for the sugars to intensify. Some styles of dessert wine include Hungarian Tokaji, French Sauternes and Canadian Icewine.

While some of these categories are matured in casks more commonly than others, we have seen some stunning whiskies matured in casks from all four categories, including a Swedish whisky that was matured in an ex-Champagne cask.

As we will explore over the following flight, we can see the wildly varying although enjoyable flavours that can be achieved using these incredible wine casks;

Michel Couvreur L’Oubli 2009 vintage 43.41%

Michel Courvreur whisky starts its life in Scotland, as a bulk made new make spirit, which is then shipped in bulk to Bourgogne, France to be matured in a wide variety of wine casks. This particular expression spent its first year in a Fino Sherry cask and then transferred into a white wine cask, that had previously held La Vigne de l’Oubli, a Mauzac wine produced in the Gaillac region of South-west France. Truly Unique.

Orange blossom honey and golden syrup come across immediately on the nose, followed by jasmine flowers and lemon zest. A faint hint of pencil shavings comes along quickly, although doesn’t last too long. After some time in the glass, crème brulee and coconut take over, followed up with peaches cooked in butter and mandarins. On the front palate, sultanas and a return to the orange blossom honey and mandarins. Crème brulee and salted caramel carries the spirit through the mid palate to a red apple skin finish with hints of yellow capsicum and carab.

 

Auchroisk 2013-2019 Banyuls wine cask finish by Coopers Choice

This particular bottling is from a rarely seen distillery, Auchroisk, a workhorse distillery in Speyside. Auchroisk spirit is designed to be rich, thick and cereal forward. As for this particular wine cask, Banyuls is known as the French cousin to Port wine, a naturally sweet fortified wine. Banyuls is made in South France, close to the border of Spain. This wine is typically made mostly from three different varieties of Grenache, and a few other red grape varieties.

Cherry starbursts and pink finger buns rise from the lip of the glass, while delving into the nose leads to hot cross buns with melted butter, yellow grapefruit skins and English breakfast tea. The spirit sweetens up with time in the glass, with an aroma of rainbow paddle pops and banana ice cream. Incredibly citrusy on the front palate, with memories of lemon trees and yellow grapefruit skins. Followed up by rich black cherries and pineapple lumps, and a rich salted caramel and molasses finish.

 

Bruichladdich Valinch 32 2007-2018 “Lynne McEwan” Rivesaltes wine cask 64.4%

Travelling to Islay with this whisky. Bruichladdich is famed for its production of three different whisky distillates, ranging from its namesake unpeated spirit, to the heavily peated Port Charlotte and the super heavily peated Octomore. Since 2001, Bruichladdich have had interest in the use of unique French wine casks, and this particular release showcases this. Rivesaltes is a naturally sweet, fortified wine made in South France. It can either be white or red in colour, and is typically made from Muscat and a few varieties of Grenache.

This whisky practically explodes out of the glass, tung oil and freshly polished cedar come through with caramelised orange peels. This develops into mandarin skins, dark brown sugar, prunes and overripe bananas. After leaving it in the glass for 15 minutes we see marmalade and butter, with a soft floral character like rose water. The spirit starts off savoury on the palate, sea spray and sourdough bread, although it is swiftly followed by walnuts and the boldest cherry jam you have ever had. This is not a whisky for the faint hearted.